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Mesa Verde National Park offers a peek into the past. For 700 years, the Ancestral Pueblo people made their homes in canyons and cliffs along the Rio Grande. Even though they moved on some 700 years ago, these people left amazing evidence of their lives and culture. For the last century, these priceless archeological sites have been preserved and protected as part of a national park, created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. This 52,000-acre park in southwestern Colorado has since been declared a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, in recognition of the cultural treasures contained within.
Mesa Verde National Park is open all year, although the operating season for some places and the interpretive program varies from season to season. Activities include the outdoor adventures, such as wildlife watching, rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking. A driving tour of the Mesa Top Loop Road or walking tours of any number of trails will provide access to sites of natural and historic significance. And with a variety of options for Mesa Verde lodging, visitors can get an early start of exploring the park's treasures
More than 600 cliff dwellings remain. Most of these sites are open only to researchers and archeologists, but some are accessible to park visitors. National Park Service rangers lead tours of three different sites, which kick off at the Far View Visitor Center or the Morefield Ranger Station. During the summer, tours of Mesa Verde National Park can be quite busy, so visitors can choose between a tour of the Cliff Palace and the Balcony House. Time at the Long House can be included with either tour. All of these tours require some walking and strenuous activity.
For those not up to it or on a compressed schedule, the exhibits and movies at the visitor center and Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum also provide an excellent view of the history and contemporary expressions of Native culture. A short walking trail provides access to the Spruce House, the best-preserved dwelling.
A special 90-minute tour of Cliff Palace is available at twilight. The Mesa Verde Institute sponsors the ranger-led tour, which can accommodate 20 people. Rangers, in conjunction with the park concessionaire, also lead bus tours. These half-day excursions that depart from the Far View Terrace, introduce Mesa Verde National Park and its past residents with interesting and detailed narration. Tour participants have the chance to get off the bus and make some short hikes to the Mesa Top Loop Road and Cliff Palace.
In addition to the bus tours, the concessionaire operates retail shops, restaurants, a campground, and Mesa Verde lodging providers. The Far View Lodge offers its guests well-appointed rooms, fine and causal dining, excellent views, access to tours, private balconies, and shopping. The only hotel located within the confines of the park is one of the state's most welcoming resorts.
At the Morefield Campground four miles from the park entrance, more than 400 sites, set among the beauty of the wildflowers and wooded canyons, accommodate tent camping, groups, and RVs. Mesa Verde camping is available May through October; reservations are not required, but are accepted.
Other options for Mesa Verde lodging can be found in the nearby cities. Mancos is home to some motels, lodges, and ranches. The closet major city is located about 35 miles away; a variety of Durango hotels, restaurants, and attractions extend hospitality to park visitors.
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